The public’s trust in journalists has dropped significantly in recent years.
Is anyone surprised?
Today has seen a classic example of why the profession is suffering such a bad image.
The Sun splashes a “world exclusive” about twin baby girls abandoned by their ageing parents “because they were the wrong sex” at a Midlands hospital after being conceived through IVF treatment in India.
But, later, The Guardian reveals a very different tale. The babies were not abandoned, they have been switched to a different hospital, the parents are by their side, neither the police or social services are involved.
So who do we believe?
The Sun’s story is as sensational as we have come to expect. The Guardian has carried out some fairly simply checks.
The biggest problem with this story is the way it was immediately latched upon by other media and retold as the truth, clearly without any basic journalism – such as a quick phone call to the police, local NHS Trust or social services to try and get confirmation.
That is all it would have taken.
Perhaps, in these days of instant news and increased competition from any number of independent sites and individual bloggers, the need to get a story out as quickly as possible over-rides basic journalism training.
Web traffic is all-important these days, as is being the first with the news – truth and fact have apparently slipped down the list of importance.
That is why several radio stations carried the news almost as it had been written in The Sun – some even had “expert comment” from campaign groups about the horrendous nature of this story. That is why it was also picked up by TV news and the internet.
I am staggered by The Sun’s original story. But I’m amazed at how so many other established media outlets jumped on the story and ran it without too much in the way of fact-checking.
There is a brief, but informative discussion regarding some of these issues in The Birmingham Post on a viral campaign picked up as a “news story” around the world.
Having read the main post and comments, I was left with three straight-forward questions swirling around my head regarding journalists and media groups:
- When did journalists decide that picking up a phone to check basic facts wasn’t necessary?
- When did it become acceptable to regard information found on the internet as “safe” without proper verification?
- Why don’t media organisations care about their credibility these days?
The need for the traditional mainstream media to engage with new audiences by making use of new technology is pressing, to say the least.
But shouldn’t the need to maintain credibility and trust in what we read, hear and see be paramount?